This beautiful painting was made by Johannes Vermeer in about 1663–64 in Delft, the Netherlands. It can been seen in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  In 17th centuary paintings nothing is like it seems to us now.

Is the woman pregnant?

Woman in Blue reading a letter by Johannes Vermeer

According to Marieke de Winkel, Dutch costume expert, pregnancy “was not a common subject in art and there are very few depictions of maternity wear. Pregnancy was most likely not seen as aesthetically attractive. Arthur Wheelock has written that “Dutch fashions in the mid-17th century seemed to have encouraged a bulky silhouette. The impression of the short jacket worn over a thickly padded skirt in Vermeer’s painting in particular may create just such an impression.”

Love letter

Jacob Cats, the unchallenged “best-seller” of Dutch moralistic literature, took as disapproving attitude to females writing love letters in his Houwelijck (Marriage, 1652), a monumental written example of female conduct described through successive stages of a woman’s life.By the time Vermeer approached his first letter themed paintings, love letters became a widespread fashion in the Netherlands. Contemporary literature of jurisprudence had declared that love letters were subject to legal enquiry. Lawyers could use them as evidence of either a promise of matrimony, or if one of the writers was already married, infidelity.

More background on this wonderful painting: The Essential Vermeer

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